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Music Review: The Cute Lepers – Can’t Stand Modern Music

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When the Briefs, a Seattle based alt/punk band, went on hiatus in 2007, singer Steve E. Nix and bassist Steve Kicks started the power-pop oriented Cute Lepers. After releasing a few singles, the band signed with Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records earlier this year, and they are currently on tour to support their first release Can’t Stand Modern Music.

Taking up where the Briefs left off, The Cute Lepers merge power pop with quirky, intelligent punk a la the Buzzcocks. Can’t Stand Modern Music is more new wave than the Briefs’ snotty punk, though. Thankfully, Nix’s sense of humor that provided songs such as “40 and Above” and “Dolly Parton” is still intact.

“Terminal Boredom” addresses the issue posed by the CD title, “Ain't nothing on the radio/ no hope/ But that stupid band called chemical/ Oh what a mope” Of course, Nix is just singing what we’re all thinking.  The song melds Bad Reputation and any Ramones tune you care to name (with handclaps). It always seems on be on the turntable of club DJS specializing in punk/power pop/ “now” wave music.

You won't mistake a Cute Lepers song for an undiscovered gem from the early ‘80s; the 11 tracks on Can't Stand Modern Music have a fresh vibe. One listen and you can tell this is a current punk/power pop band paying homage to their influences without veering into Blink 182 territory. “Prove It” has a ‘60s Brit Mod sound and an infectious hook that could convert, well, even a My Chemical Romance fan. “ Modern Pests” channels Elvis Costello right down to the guitar solo and Nix’s vocal inflections.

There are no “slow songs” or ballads on Can’t Stand. Be advised that the tracks follow the same frantically catchy melodic punk formula, (Nix said in an interview that he likes “raw music with hooks”), so there’s no breather or experimental track. If retro punk/now wave is your preferred genre, you’ll definitely hear the nuances between tracks. If you’re just a causal listener, you may find yourself saying “Didn’t I just hear this?” as the CD progresses.

The Cute Lepers performed at the Wild Weekend Power Pop Festival in Austin over the Labor Day weekend, and their set won over the crowd there to see elder statesmen like 20/20 and The Boys. Their live show combines personality and punch — Nix and the guitarists have a pogo-ing energy, and three back-up singers add sassy girl-group harmonies to embellish the songs.

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